If the Buffalo Sabres are going to make a serious run at the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they’ll have to rebound from one of their poorest efforts of the season when they host the eighth-place New York Islanders.
Wednesday night’s 8-2 drubbing at New Jersey could have been even more costly for Buffalo, which is still six points behind the Islanders for the last playoff spot in the East. But the Islanders suffered a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday, squandering an opportunity to pad their lead.
The Sabres, who lost 4-1 to the Islanders on Saturday, are trying to avoid a four-game sweep of the season series.
“We’ve got to get back into it right away,” Buffalo winger J.P. Dumont said. “We’ve had a hard time against Long Island but it’s payback time.”
The Sabres will be without right wing Ales Kotalik on Thursday due to a strained shoulder.
Kotalik injured the shoulder during the second period of Wednesday’s loss to New Jersey when he was checked into the boards. He’s tied for third on the team with 15 goals, and has 11 assists in 62 games. Kotalik is coming off a promising rookie season in which he finished with 21 goals and 14 assists.
The Islanders, 6-1-0 in their last seven meetings with the Sabres, may be without team captain Michael Peca for Friday’s game. Peca, who starred for Buffalo from 1995-99, left Thursday’s game during the first period with a leg injury and didn’t return. His status for Friday is unknown.
The Islanders had a nine-game home unbeaten streak (6-0-3) snapped, and finished 0-6 for the season against the rival Rangers, who are likely headed to their seventh straight non-playoff season.
“We’re not worried about the Rangers,” Islanders defenseman Adrian Aucoin said. “I don’t think the Rangers are going to catch anybody.”
A loss to the Sabres could give Aucoin and his teammates something to worry about.